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Geek & Gorgeous 101 A-Game 5 0.05% Retinal Serum

101 A-Game 5 0.05% Retinal Serum

A silky, light emulsion containing a medium-strength amount of retinal to help against all signs of aging while being gentle on the skin.
Uploaded by: silverkeith on

Geek & Gorgeous 101 A-Game 5 0.05% Retinal Serum
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Water | What-it-does: solvent

Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product. 

It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water. 

Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying. 

One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time. 

What-it-does: emollient

A super common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. It’s a nice ingredient that just feels good on the skin, is super well tolerated by every skin type and easy to formulate with. No wonder it’s popular. 

What-it-does: emollient

A vegetable-based emollient ester (oleyl alcohol + erucic acid) that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It has a rich and caring skin feel, very similar to jojoba oil

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

What-it-does: emollient

A light, oily liquid (triglyceride of seven carbon length fatty acid, heptanoic acid)  that works as a very high spreadability and low viscosity emollient making the skin nice and smooth.

Also-called: Part of Olivem 1000 | What-it-does: emulsifying

An ester that comes from Cetearyl alcohol and the fatty acids of olive oil. It often comes to the formula coupled with Sorbitan Olivate as the two together form the well-known, natural emulsifier trade named Olivem 1000. 

Other than helping oil and water to blend, the main thing of Olivem 1000 is generating liquid crystal structures that are similar to the lipid structures of the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of the skin). Thanks to this, Olivem 1000 doubles as an active ingredient with significant moisturizing, barrier-repairing and soothing properties.

It also helps to deliver water-soluble actives such as caffeine more effectively, and can even boost SPF in sunscreen formulas. Its typical use level is 1-5% and has wide compatibility with other actives and oils.

Overall, a real multi-tasker with nice sensorial properties. No wonder it is so popular.

Also-called: Part of Olivem 1000 | What-it-does: emulsifying

An ester coming from sorbitol and the fatty acids of olive oil. It is part of the popular emulsifier trade named Olivem 1000 that is well-known for generating biomimetic liquid crystal structures. We have more info on Olivem 1000 at Cetearyl Olivate >>

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Also-called: Sepinov EMT 10 | What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising

This long-named, polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits) is a helper ingredient that's good at emulsifying and stabilizing oils into water-based formulas. It also acts as a thickening and gelling agent that creates nice, non-sticky and supple textures. It works over a very wide pH range (3-12) and can be used to thicken up low-ph formulas, such as exfoliants. Its recommended used range is 0.3-3%.

Biosaccharide Gum-1 is a pretty interesting kind of sugar ingredient that is created from sorbitol via bacterial fermentation. 

According to the manufacturer it’s a “S.M.A.R.T.” sugar: it has Soothing, Moisturizing, Anti-aging, Restructuring and Touch properties. Let’s look at them quickly one by one.

Soothing: the manufacturer tested out the soothing effect in vivo (meaning on humans that is always a good thing!) by measuring how 3% Biosaccharide Gum-1 decreased the tingling sensation caused by 10% lactic acid. The result was good: the tingling was decreased by 47%.

Moisturizing: Compared to famous hyaluronic acid, it turns out that the two are great together. HA has a quicker effect and provides more instant hydration (much more hydration was measured after 1h of application), while our nice sugar has a somewhat delayed effect demonstrating stronger hydration after 3h of application. After 8 hours both had similar moisturizing effect. 

Anti-aging: According to ex-vivo tests (meaning not on humans, so do not trust it too much) Biosaccharide Gum-1 can stimulate a protein in our skin called sirtuin-1. This is supposed to help our skin cells to live longer, and function better. 

Resurfacing:  The sirtuin-1 stimulation also results in quicker cell renewal - something that happens anyway but slows down as we age. And the quicker cell renewal is good because it helps the regeneration of the barrier function. That is especially nice for fragile, sensitive skin.

Touch: our fermented sugar is not only good to the skin, but it also feels great on the skin. It gives a nice “soft touch” feeling and makes the products pleasant to use. 

The bottom line is that the above info is from the manufacturer (and we could not find any relevant independent research) so obviously take it with a grain of salt. But Biosaccharide Gum-1 does look as an interesting and promising ingredient that’s why it earned our goodie rating. 

Allantoin - goodie
What-it-does: soothing | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. 

It's not only soothing but it' also skin-softening and protecting and can promote wound healing.

Retinal - superstar
Also-called: Form of Retinoids, Retinaldehyde | What-it-does: cell-communicating ingredient

If you are reading here, we are pretty sure the words retinoids and retinol ring a bell, but if not, you are seriously missing out, please click here immediately to catch up.  The TL;DR version is that retinoids are the royal family of skincare with tretinoin being the queen, the only FDA-approved ingredient to treat the signs of photoaging. Retinol is like a grandkid, it has to be converted (through two steps) in the skin to become retinoic acid. The conversion means retinol is both less effective and less harsh on the skin. 

So where does our current molecule, Retinal, aka Retinaldehyde fit into the family (btw, here is a nice visual family tree about who is who)?  Remember that retinol needed two conversion steps to become retinoic acid? Yes, you are right, Retinal is the intermediate step between retinoic acid and retinol, meaning it needs only one conversion step to become active in the skin. If we go with our royal family analogy, Retinal is Prince Charles, directly next in line to the throne. 

Once retinal is converted, it becomes retinoic acid and does the same things we detailed in our tretinoin description. In a nutshell, it is everything you expect from an anti-aging superstar such as decreased wrinkles, smoother, firmer and more elastic skin

This sounds good, but how does Retinal compare to retinoic acid? Good question! We found a study (a pretty good one with 125 patients) that compared 0.05% retinal with 0.05% retinoic acid (and vehicle).  They concluded that "at week 18, a significant reduction of the wrinkle and roughness features was observed with both retinaldehyde and retinoic acid." and the difference between the two was not statistically significant. (Interestingly, in both groups, the results were less significant at week 44, so it might be a good idea to have a retinoid break from time to time?) Also, our guy, Retinal was much better tolerated than retinoic acid known for its harshness. 

The good tolerability of retinal was also confirmed by another study that compared retinol (ROL), retinal (RAL) and retinoic acid (RA). They found that "the natural retinoids ROL and RAL do have a good tolerance profile, in contrast with the irritating potential of RA", meaning retinal is an awesome alternative if you have irritation and flaking issues with prescription products, such as Retin-A. 

Last, but not least, we want to mention a pretty big (but subjectively evaluated), Avene (the French pharmacy brand famous for its Retinal products) sponsored study that examined the tolerability and efficacy of a 0.1 Retinal + 6% glycolic acid product in the treatment of acne. The product was added next to the standard anti-acne regimen of 1,709 patients for 90 days and the study concluded that the formula was both very well tolerated as well as effective next to other standard anti-acne medications such as benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics.

Overall, if you are into retinoids, Retinal is a really awesome and well-proven member of the family that is absolutely worth trying. 

Also-called: Cloudberry Seed Oil

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid). 

Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier. 

Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.

Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation. 

If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.

As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily. 

What-it-does: buffering

Citric acid comes from citrus fruits and is an AHA. If these magic three letters don’t tell you anything, click here and read our detailed description on glycolic acid, the most famous AHA. 

So citric acid is an exfoliant, that can - just like other AHAs - gently lift off the dead skin cells of your skin and make it more smooth and fresh. 

There is also some research showing that citric acid with regular use (think three months and 20% concentration) can help sun-damaged skin, increase skin thickness and some nice hydrating things called glycosaminoglycans in the skin. 

But according to a comparative study done in 1995, citric acid has less skin improving magic properties than glycolic or lactic acid. Probably that’s why citric acid is usually not used as an exfoliant but more as a helper ingredient in small amounts to adjust the pH of a formulation. 

Also-called: Vitamin E Acetate | What-it-does: antioxidant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the most commonly used version of pure vitamin E in cosmetics. You can read all about the pure form here. This one is the so-called esterified version. 

According to famous dermatologist, Leslie Baumann while tocopheryl acetate is more stable and has a longer shelf life, it’s also more poorly absorbed by the skin and may not have the same awesome photoprotective effects as pure Vit E. 

Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes.

It is typically used in tiny amounts, around 0.1% or less.

What-it-does: preservative, deodorant

If you have spotted ethylhexylglycerin on the ingredient list, most probably you will see there also the current IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol. They are good friends because ethylhexylglycerin can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too.

Also, it's an effective deodorant and a medium spreading emollient

What-it-does: preservative

It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.

It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic. 

Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10). 

It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A very common emollient that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. Comes from coconut oil and glycerin, it’s light-textured, clear, odorless and non-greasy. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A vegetable-based emollient ester that makes your skin feel nice and smooth. It has a rich and caring skin feel, very similar to jojoba oil.  [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
A light, oily liquid (triglyceride of seven carbon length fatty acid, heptanoic acid)  that works as a very high spreadability and low viscosity emollient making the skin nice and smooth. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying
Part of Olivem 1000, a natural emulsifier duo that is known for forming biomimetic liquid crystal structures. It doubles as an active ingredient with barrier repairing and soothing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does emulsifying
An ester coming from sorbitol and the fatty acids of olive oil. It often comes to the formula coupled with Cetearyl Olivate and the two together help water and oil to blend (emulsifier). It's a natural and Ecocert approved duo.
what‑it‑does chelating
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A helper ingredient that's good at stabilizing water-based formulas and also serves as a thickener. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
Biosaccharide Gum-1 is a pretty interesting kind of sugar ingredient that is created from sorbitol via bacterial fermentation.  According to the manufacturer it’s a “S.M.A.R.T.” sugar: [more]
what‑it‑does soothing
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Super common soothing ingredient. It can be found naturally in the roots & leaves of the comfrey plant, but more often than not what's in the cosmetic products is produced synthetically. It's not only soothing but it' [more]
what‑it‑does cell-communicating ingredient
If you are reading here, we are pretty sure the words retinoids and retinol ring a bell, but if not, you are seriously missing out, please click here immediately to catch up.  The TL;DR version is that retinoids are the royal family of skincare with tretinoin being the queen, the only FDA-approved ingredient to treat the signs of photoaging. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]
what‑it‑does antioxidant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A form of vitamin E that works as an antioxidant. Compared to the pure form it's more stable, has longer shelf life, but it's also more poorly absorbed by the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does chelating | viscosity controlling
Super common little helper ingredient that helps products to remain nice and stable for a longer time. It does so by neutralizing the metal ions in the formula (that usually get into there from water) that would otherwise cause some not so nice changes. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
It can boost the effectiveness of phenoxyethanol (and other preservatives) and as an added bonus it feels nice on the skin too. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]